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Hands missing from Buddhist statues at National Museum of Korea

Hands missing from Buddhist statues at National Museum of Korea

Posted May. 15, 2024 07:48,   

Updated May. 15, 2024 07:48


The hands of two Buddha statues excavated from the premises of Heungnyongsa Temple on Baekun Mountain in Pocheon City were belatedly found to be absent while being stored by the National Museum of Korea. The museum confirmed that it is true that the hands disappeared after the transfer and has initiated an investigation into the circumstances.

"The hands of two iron Buddha statues excavated from the Heungnyongsa Temple site in 1924 and held by the National Museum of Korea have disappeared," said Doam, the head monk of Heungnyongsa Temple under the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, on Tuesday, demanding an explanation from the museum. They are presumed to be Sakyamuni Buddha and Jijang Bosal statues, believed to have been made when Ven. Doseon, a monk from the late Unified Silla period, founded Naewonsa Temple, the predecessor of Heungnyongsa Temple. After excavation, they were transferred to the Joseon Government-General Museum in 1925 and have been under national ownership and management since the National Museum of Korea was established in December 1945.

At the time of excavation, photographs show that the hands of the statues were present. Additionally, a document titled "Discovery and Transportation of Iron Buddhas from Heungnyongsa Temple" prepared by the Joseon Government-General at the time says, "Four fingers of the right hand of the Sakyamuni Buddha are damaged," and "The thumb of the right hand of Jijang Bosal is damaged." However, recent photographs of the iron Buddhas Heungnyongsa Temple taken last month show that the wrists are missing entirely. Heungnyongsa Temple is currently promoting a "Cultural Heritage Restoration Movement."

The museum is having trouble locating the missing hands as there are no records except for the 1930 exhibition photos at Geunjeongjeon Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace, where the hands were seen intact. A museum official said, "It is presumed that the hands were lost during the Japanese colonial period or the Korean War. It is difficult to accurately ascertain the situation."

사지원 기자 4g1@donga.com